SEC ends program to oversee investment banks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is ending its program to supervise large independent investment banks now that the five participants have collapsed or reorganized.

The announcement Friday coincided with criticism by the SEC’s inspector general of the agency for failing to properly supervise broker dealer risk assessments in a program run by the Division of Trading and Markets.

“TM’s (trading and markets) failure to carry out the purpose and goals of the Broker-Dealer Risk Assessment program hinders the Commission’s ability to foresee or respond to weaknesses in the financial markets,” said the inspector general’s report.

Under the investment bank program, Merrill Lynch & Co MER.N, Lehman Brothers Holding Inc LEHMQ.PK, Bear Stearns, Goldman Sachs Group Inc GS.N and Morgan Stanley MS.N -- volunteered to be monitored for capital and liquidity levels.

Bear Stearns was taken over by JPMorgan Chase & Co JPM.N in an emergency sale engineered by U.S. officials, Lehman has filed for bankruptcy protection, Merrill is being taken over by Bank of America Corp BAC.N, and Goldman and Morgan Stanley have converted themselves into bank holding companies regulated by the Federal Reserve.

“The last six months have made it abundantly clear that voluntary regulation does not work,” SEC Chairman Christopher Cox said in a statement.

In July, the SEC and the Federal Reserve formalized a deal to share information about banks, in a move expected to strengthen oversight of the financial markets that were still reeling from the demise of Bear Stearns.

Cox said the SEC will continue to work closely with the Fed, but will be focused “even more clearly” on the broker-dealer subsidiaries of the banking conglomerates.

The SEC said it will look closely at the inspector general’s recommendations on the broker-dealer risk assessment program and will implement them.

Reporting by Rachelle Younglai; editing by Tim Dobbyn